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Want to play better golf? Practice your awareness


            When we make a post-round breakdown, shot-by-shot analysis of our last golf round, we might well notice things we did quite well, and we almost certainly will find some instances where we made some bad mistakes and unforced errors, especially having played under difficult conditions.

When I reflect on my own rounds, I begin to grasp how I failed to accommodate the myriad variables of the course and conditions that day, and just how situational golf really is. Things like the wind, what’s happening in the match, where do your misses go, are nerves holding up? Our performance at any given time depends on so much that can change in a heartbeat.

            We can break down the conditions and situations into three categories to make things simpler.

First, there is internal: how you’re feeling emotionally, and what’s going on between your ears.

The second is really social: where your match stands, who you are playing with, and how comfortable you are with the social context you find yourself in.

            Thirdly, environmental factors are critical for making each shot. There is the lie, the distance, the wind  temperature and humidity, the grass type, your equipment and consistency of the sand in the bunkers.

            CBS on-course golf analyst and expert teacher Peter Kostis had a mantra of “awareness and adjustment.” He said pros have to calibrate their play and decisions to each course and each day’s conditions.

Pros have caddies, who are probably better at awareness of conditions than their player. For us chops, the bad news is that detailed process of becoming awareness savvy and making successful adjustment each round seems daunting, almost like we should carry along a computer as we play.

But here’s the good news: as we gain golfing experience and golfing intelligence, we become more adept at adapting. That means we should become better as we acquire greater sensitivity of everything we should recognize, and greater capacity to regulate and modify our play to an infinite array of changing conditions. Awareness and adjustment take practice.

            When it comes to self-management in a pressure situation, LPGA Hall of Famer (and New Mexico native) Kathy Whitworth once shared some wisdom she was taught by her mentor, the late Harvey Penick.

Needing a par on the final hole to win an important tournament Whitworth recalled she had a short iron to the 18th green. “Not a difficult shot, but the circumstances made it hard. There was a lot riding on that swing. I was nervous, but as I approached the ball I could hear Harvey in my head saying, ‘take dead aim.’ He said it’s too late to think swing, better think target. So I homed in on the flag, focused on nothing else and swung. I won the tournament.” Timeless advice.